I took a break from Spheres of Squirrelcraft – how was I to know Pecans of Power would make those squorcs get bigger? – to do some research for my thesis on 21st Century Political Nuttitude. And what do I come across?

A cartoon squirrel in a story about bad journalism. Ahem.

For non-football fans, this story concerns on-screen graphics and commentary during the Chicago Bears game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Bears led 30-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, and perhaps the Fox Sports team thought fans might be getting bored. So they decided to revisit a controversy – really a non-troversy – from last season.

Early in the second quarter of the NFC Championship game against Green Bay back in January, Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett landed on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s left knee during a pass attempt. Cutler finished the first half, but left for the locker room ahead of his teammates. Doctors examined him, determined Cutler’s knee was injured, and recommended he not play the second half. Cutler asked for and was given a local anesthetic, and played the opening series of the third quarter. His knee buckled again on a routine hand-off, and he left the game for good.

An MRI the next day showed a Grade II tear in his medial collateral ligament. I’m not a doctor and BPI won’t pay for a Holiday Inn Express when they send me on roving reporter gigs, but that sounds serious.

Green Bay won the NFC Championship game, and the Super Bowl, and apparently Some People Said the reason was that Jay Cutler wasn’t tough enough. In fact, the headlines screamed it:

Cutler Leaves With Injury

Cutler Lacks Courage

Cutler’s No Leader!

Or at least those were the headlines cited by Fox Sports. Here’s a clip of the broadcast, from SportsGrid:

There’s just one problem. They weren’t “actual headlines from the local papers,” as Fox Sports commentator Daryl Johnson claimed. The staff at the Chicago Tribune looked, and none of those headlines appeared in any Chicago newspaper, or any Illinois newspaper, or any newspaper in the United States. The Fox Sports’ graphics department made them up.

This was just creative license, according to Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell:

The wrong word was used. Our attempt was to capture the overall sentiment nationwide following the game.

That “overall sentiment” being comments by NFL players from other teams and some irate fans during and right after the game, before the news broke that Cutler had a torn MCL. And by some even after that news broke, because it’s oh-so-easy to dismiss someone else’s injury.

Regardless, the important point is, the Chicago Tribune suggested a cartoon squirrel for the next Fox Sports broadcast. The Tribune staff noted that color commentator Daryl Johnson’s playing nickname was “Moose.” So obviously – at least to someone at the Tribune staff – play-by-play announcer Kenny Albert’s nickname should be “Squirrel.”

This impugns the journalistic integrity of squirrels. And that makes me grumpy. I would write to the Tribune to complain, but they’d probably say I’m just as imaginary as those Fox Sports headlines.

Good day and good nuts.